Poor Brian Cox.
He's the actor who created Hannibal Lecter in the movie "Manhunter," only to see Anthony Hopkins get all the glory when Hopkins took over the role in "Silence of the Lambs."
Pity Cox no longer. His time has come. He plays the monstrously arrogant Hermann Wilhelm Goering in TNT's "Nuremberg," a four-hour miniseries about the war crimes trial after World War II. It's based on the book "Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial" by Joseph E. Persico.
Although Alec Baldwin is "Nuremberg's" above-the-title star (and an executive producer), Cox's Goering is the most commanding presence in this frequently engrossing production.
Baldwin stars as Robert H. Jackson, a Supreme Court justice who takes a leave of absence to lead the Allied prosecution of Nazis accused of war atrocities. Along the way, Jackson begins an affair with his secretary, Elsie (Jill Hennessy). The film glosses over this infidelity, only showcasing Jackson's wife in a single scene that establishes her as a cold woman, which is Hollywood shorthand for "it's OK to cheat." (The film also fails to tell viewers what became of Jackson's romance with Elsie after the end of the trial.)
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When: Tonight and tomorrow night at 8 on TNT.
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy, Brian Cox
Along with Jackson's too-easily-dismissed jilted wife, some scenes and dialogue in tonight's first part are hokey and stilted. ("I still can't believe he's gone," Jackson says about the death of FDR. "It was like losing a father. Truly.")
But stick with "Nuremberg."
Just as Jackson's case fails to come to life until he shows film from concentration camps at the end of tonight's Part One, "Nuremberg" doesn't begin to shine until it focuses on the psychology of the Nazi officers in tomorrow's conclusion.
Matt Craven ("L.A. Doctors") plays Capt. Gustav Gilbert, an Army psychologist who interviews the German soldiers, trying to figure out why they unquestioningly condemned millions to death.
"We were trained to obey without thinking," one German soldier says. "Does a rat catcher think it's wrong to catch rats?"
That's a line of dialogue that's bound to make viewers wince, but it goes a long way to explaining some of the thinking that led to the Holocaust. Goering argues with Gilbert that America's segregation laws are no different than Germany's anti-semetism. He also claims no knowledge of the death camp atrocities, adding, "the mass murders were absolutely unnecessary from a nationalistic point of view. Everything [Hitler did] before the war was right."
By showing so many points of view - various soldiers, the Americans, Russians, even Goering's wife - "Nuremberg" allows Gilbert to theorize on the nature of evil. It's also a cautionary tale for the world 60 years later. One of the Germans on trial blames "modern communication" for giving Hitler the ability to wrest control. A scary thought now that the ultimate in modern communication tools, the Internet, is a part of so many people's lives.
Baldwin and Cox glower at one another across the courtroom, which looks a little silly in Part One, but takes on more of a menace in Part Two. Goering gets the upper hand during his first time on the witness stand, but Jackson matches his intensity in a second round.
Throughout Part Two, Goering dominates, if not in screen time, definitely in intensity. It's a credit to Cox, whose performance draws the spotlight away from Baldwin and the prosecutors.
Goering intimidates despite a lack of power. He's a fascinating character, full of vigor and afraid of nothing. He even lures an American guard into friendship - can you imagine? An American G.I. striking up a friendship with a high-ranking German just after World War II? These scenes show just how alluring Goering's bombast became.
Cox does what Hopkins did in "Silence of the Lambs." His "bad guy" steals the spotlight from the heroic prosecutor. He's "Nuremberg's" most complex and seductive character. "Nuremberg" makes clear how his force of personality blinded others to his unabashed participation in evildoing.